Think of art-centric cities in America. New York, of course, Los Angeles, San Francisco, for sure, and… Pittsburgh?
Yes. Although Pittsburgh is widely known for their sports teams, Primanti’s and steel making, the art scene is something to be seen, and reason enough to visit the charming city.
The artwork around town may not be obvious, but I found this to be part of its appeal – you have work a little to find the best spots, which are usually former industrial spaces transformed into modern art galleries.
Like any holiday, eating, sleeping, and exploring are on the daily agenda, but here is a way to do it artfully.
The Art of Sleeping…
Even unassuming places contain hidden works of art. Our group’s hotel, Embassy Suites (which is great excuse for using your Hilton points) downtown, is housed in a historical landmark with stunning Art Deco elevators, and peppered with beautiful paintings from local artists.
The lesser known, but increasingly popular neighborhood, East End has two new boutique hotels for travelers wanting a more intimate experience. The quirky/cool Ace Hotel Pittsburgh, housed in century old former YMCA building, and the slightly more luxe and pet-friendly Hotel Indigo East Liberty. Both hotels strive to integrate with community and bring the local arts into their guest spaces.
Something I discovered while visiting is the deep connection of Pittsburgh and New York through the works of Philip Johnson, Andy Warhol, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Henry Clay Frick. The Frick Art & Historical Center, just as the similarly named museum back east, served as the residence for the Frick family and now displays their extensive personal collection.
Greeted by a bespectacled trio, we were guided through the roving exhibits in the art museum building, and were given a tour of Clayton, the preserved Victorian residence. The biggest difference between this and New York property is just that – size.
The grounds are lush, and expansive, mirroring a botanical garden, in addition to the main buildings. Four hours of roaming is a low estimate of how much time you could spend on the property.
Andy Warhol’s Factory may have been in New York, but his heart and his home are in Pittsburgh. I was most excited to visit the Warhol Museum, the country’s largest museum decided to a single artist, and of course, the largest collection of his paintings, sketches, sculptures, and artifacts in one space. Seven stories and seventeen galleries are dedicated to the works of the revolutionary pop artist, and each is unique to a different era of his life or his aesthetic.
I found the artifacts on display, including an invitation to Michael Jackson’s birthday party (printed on a white glove) to be some of the most interesting pieces, and the basement creative art space was a fun way to make my own Warhol-inspired works.
I had limited time in town, but next time I’m visiting, the re imagined Mattress Factory, a collection of contemporary installations from artists in residence, will be my first stop.
I’d also recommend visiting in the fall. Not only because of the temperate weather, and beautiful foliage (and football season), but mainly for the innovative re:NEW Festival, a month-long celebration of sustainability, and transformation. Inspired by Barcelona’s Drap-Art, 2016’s inaugural festival was the first in North America, and was a huge success for the city.
If Elsa lived the ‘burgh, she would most definitely reside in PPG Place. The Pittsburgh Plate Glass palace, designed by Philip Johnson, is comprised of six separate buildings that are fit for an ice princess, complete with a seasonal skating rink.
About an hour outside of the city is a true architectural masterpiece that you’d be remiss to pass up. Fallingwater, originally a weekend home designed by the incomparable Frank Lloyd Wright, was built over a 30′ waterfall, and amazingly, doesn’t appear to stand on solid ground. It’s a wonderful place to spend a few hours, and an American treasure.
Another neighborhood newcomer, The Abbey, has just about everything you would need. It’s a coffee shop, a restaurant, a bar, has parking on site, and an outdoor patio. The building’s exterior is misleading – it’s gigantic inside, and fashioned to look like a medieval cloister. This strange combination of parts oddly all work together, and it’s a great choice for happy hour.
The Whitfield brings another slice of NYC to Pittsburgh, but in this case, it’s a New York strip. Brent Young, owner of Brooklyn’s The Meat Hook, carefully curated “western Pennsylvania cuisine” sure to please meat lovers. Locally raised beer, and inventive cocktails rule the menu.
An extensive margarita and cocktail list with a smattering of tacos is what you’ll find at the Cultural District’s tako. A dimly lit, loud music scene, the tacos are made with quality ingredients with an international twist. Sit upstairs for dinner, then enjoy the street facing (perfect for people watching) indoor/outdoor (weather permitting) bar on the first floor.
The Art of Travel…
Public transportation around town options include buses and trolleys, but nothing compares to The Duquesne Incline. Open every day of the year and past midnight, it may not be a thrilling ride, but it’s a bargain ($5.00 roundtrip) for the best view of the skyline (outside of PNC Park), and the easiest way to descend incredibly steep hill from Mount Washington.
For more information about traveling to Pittsburgh and its art culture, check out Visit Pittsburgh.
This trip was provided by Visit Pittsburgh. I was not compensated, and all opinions are my own.